Tigers cruise past Texas A&M 68-49

Jarell Martin’s grasp on the subtleties of basketball aren’t glamorous.

The well-developed freshman doesn’t always show it by gently arcing a 3-pointer toward the rim, or deftly changing hands for a reverse layup in transition.

Oh, the LSU swingman did both as he scored nine straight points in a row during the Tigers’ dam-breaking 13-2 run in an important 68-49 victory over Texas A&M on Wednesday night.

But if you’re searching for a sequence to dissect, rewind to a possession with about 14 minutes left at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

After knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers, Martin took a pass on the left wing and crouched for a jumper. Instead, he drove the ball on Aggies forward Antwan Space, forcing forward Kourtney Roberson to rotate.

Roberson was a fraction of second too late, picking up his third personal on a blocking foul for the Aggies (16-12, 7-8 Southeastern Conference), who couldn’t recover.

Stepping to the free-throw line, Martin — who led LSU (17-10, 8-7) by tying a career-high with 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting — calmly hit bth free throws and went on his way.

Over the past seven games, the former McDonald’s All-American and Baton Rouge native flashed hints he’d settled in. There were back-to-back 15 point outings against Arkansas and at Georgia. Last week againt Mississippi State, Martin popped off a career-high in an 11-point win over the Bulldogs.

But what’s changed is Martin’s feel for when to use his different skills — overcoming the frustration that came with picking up the position of small forward in the process.

Yet there was Martin on Wednesday, asserting himself with the Tigers muddling through and leading by five points with 14:43 to go as the Aggies failed to clear the 55-point barrier for the 10th time this season.

Left alone, he lofted a 3-pointer that splashed down to push the lead to 37-29, and a trip later, he was presented the same look when guard Anthony Hickey swung the ball back to the same left corner to Martin.

In the span of 80 seconds, the Tigers’ narrow lead was back at 41-29, with Aggies coach Billy Kennedy calling for a timeout.

Unlike an 83-73 loss two weeks ago in College Station, Texas, LSU managed to clamp down defensively on the offensively-challenged Aggies.

No, there wasn’t a slew of open 3-point attempts for Texas A&M, which shot just 30.8 percent and went 4 of 17 behind the arc.

Jordan Green led the Aggies with 12 points off the bench, while Space, Alex Caruso, Jamal Jones each added seven points.

The Tigers, who shot 49.1 percent, dominated the backboards to the tune of 41-31.

Johnny O’Bryant III added 15 points and nine rebounds, while Andre Stinger added 11 points off the bench.

Now looms the question of whether LSU can break out of a seven-team logjam in the middle of the SEC standings.

A trip to No. 1 Florida, which enters on a 30-game home winning streak, on Saturday wouldn’t seem optimal. Nabbing the No. 4 seed in the SEC tournament, and the double-bye that comes with it as a reward, would certainly get a boost with an upset.

Doing so may require LSU, which has struggled away from Baton Rouge, finding the same grit the Tigers showed while strangling the Aggies for 10 minutes in the first half.

An O’Bryant layup with 12:45 left pulled LSU within 15-9, but also spurred a 21-0 run that was punctuated by Texas A&M clanking its next 11 shots from the floor.

Martin knocked down a 3-pointer in the right corner on a feed from Hickey to trim the deficit to a point, and Jordan Mickey knocked down a jump shot from the left elbow to put LSU in front 16-15 with 8:39 left in the first half.

Meanwhile, the Aggies couldn’t punish LSU for packing the lane with its zone defense.

Instead, they settled for 3-pointers, knocking down just 3 of 10 hoisted up in the first half, and couldn’t wrestle away second possessions on the offensive backboards.

And it didn’t help that Jones, who entered averaging 17.6 points the past six games, started the game missing for of his first five shots.

Yet Kennedy’s patience reached its end when Johnny O’Bryant flew into snatch a missed Martin layup in traffic for a layup with 5:58 to go.

Kennedy called for a 30-second timeout and the Tigers’ lead had grown to 24-15.

The run, though, didn’t end until Stringer took a cross-lane feed from O’Bryant on the right block for an easy lay in off the glass to make it a 28-15 edge.

The Aggies tried to cut into the gap with a quick 7-0 spurt over roughly two minutes, inching within eight points on a Jones 3-pointer alone in the right corner.

But a dunk from Dylan Johns, which made it 30-24, was as close as the Aggies could get before halftime.